Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. We have all witnessed what has been going on up in Cleveland and those of us who are not police officers are astounded that things can get dragged out for whatever reason.
  (Mr Elliott) One of the problems I think with this is that unlike serious criminal inquiries there are aims and objectives within a serious criminal inquiry and there are checks and balances within that process. In other words, if there is a murder inquiry there will be some checks and balances about timescales and about the cost of the inquiry and people make judgments at various stages about how much further that inquiry might need to go, rather unfortunately in discipline that does not seem to happen as efficiently. What seems to happen is that people seem to go off down blind alleys occasionally or lengthen the inquiry beyond what was ever intended. Without talking about specific cases there are one or two cases around about right now which can demonstrate just that where the key aims of the inquiry have been fudged round the edge and far too many people have been brought into that process which has effectively lengthened the process to no great satisfaction for anybody involved. In other words, it is not focused enough, there is nobody overseeing the management of that, there are no judgments made about costs and other issues which can be made in many other police inquiries. It is about management of the whole system on an individual inquiry basis.

  181. There has been a habit once somebody is charged with a serious disciplinary offence to call in sick the next day and then it becoming extremely difficult to get them to attend the proceedings. That leads to things being strung out.
  (Mr Elliott) People do tell us this happens and it would be foolish of us to deny it happens but it does not happen in every case.

  182. You and I can both name cases.
  (Mr Elliott) I am sure we could but equally in serious inquiries where the chief officer can suspend the officer it is his choice—that is the chief officer's choice and not the individual's choice—as to whether he or she can go. The regulations are quite clear, the suspended officer cannot simply retire on his own without the chief officer's say so. To a certain degree it is in the hands of chief officers if they are very serious inquiries to take the appropriate action. We think sometimes that does not happen and it is not for us to explain that, I do not think.

  183. They are empowered I think as a result of the changes introduced a few years ago in extreme cases to go ahead in the absence of the defendant, are they not?
  (Mrs Berry) That is absolutely right.

  184. Are you aware that has happened ever?
  (Mrs Berry) It has happened but I think, as has just been said, maybe not as often as it may have been done.

David Winnick

  185. Clearly as an organisation you are not in favour of Community Support Officers which are to be part of the measure introduced by the Home Secretary. Some would say that as a trade union except in technical terms—we are all aware of post 1918—you would not be expected to, what would you say to that, Mr Elliott?
  (Mr Elliott) We called some time ago for a Royal Commission into policing to look at some fundamental issues about policing, fundamental issues which would have involved the public and their views on what British policing should be or should not be about. If we had suggested a system which might be mirrored on continental Europe, say Amsterdam or France, where they have two or three tier style policing, that would have been quite radical. Our view is that the public should have a say so about that before any such introduction of a second or third tier of policing is involved. It is a fundamental change to British policing in our view to put somebody with pseudo police powers between the police and the public. It is a move away from the traditional British policing. We are against that and we think the majority of the public will be against that. We think the public should have had an opportunity to say that in the Royal Commission, which we did not get. You could argue this is a trade union stand point of view, I think we are reflecting both police and public concerns about people with quite significant powers. Some powers, we think, are beyond what the police officers have now, powers of detention. We think that is a significant move away from traditional British policing which should have been subject to a wider debate than that which is currently afforded to the proposal.

  186. These Community Support Officers' powers, as I understand it, will include having powers to issue fixed penalty notices relating to anti-social behaviour, requesting the name and address and detaining for a limited period, presumably detaining before the police arrive. Are any of those proposed powers so terrible?
  (Mr Elliott) Detaining for any period of time is in my view, and I think our lawyers would agree with us, an arrest. You have deprived somebody of their liberty even if it is for a short period of time and the proposals in the Bill say "for up to half an hour it is an arrest".

  187. Yes. I am sorry to interrupt, they will be detaining the person on the spot, will they not?
  (Mr Elliott) Absolutely. There are some practical difficulties with that. I can talk about the legal difficulties which are when a police officer arrests somebody he or she has to explain to the custody officer exactly why and how that came about. Those were the protections which were put in for an arrested person by Parliament in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which had very, very wide support. They were clearly there to support the individual who was arrested. What we have got now is we have somebody who may be detained, and I think it is an arrest, on the street for up to half an hour. The practical difficulty with that is that anybody who knows anything about street policing knows that the first thing you do when you arrest somebody is to try to get them out of the public eye. It is the most ridiculous thing to have somebody stood trying to explain why he or she has been arrested to them and you gather a crowd, it is embarrassing for the person who has been arrested, it is difficult for the officer, it is a recipe for disaster. It actually gets slightly worse because then the police officer arrives and we are concerned that the police officer may not have the power when he or she gets there to actually do anything with the individual. There may be no power for the police officer to arrest the individual subsequent to detention because the powers provided to the Community Support Officer in the Bill are quite wide. We, as police, have powers to arrest and we have conditional powers of arrest for people who have failed to give their name and address but they are much more restricted, in our view, than are being offered to the Community Support Officers. There are some practical difficulties, there are some legal difficulties and I think there are also some difficulties in terms of public perception. There are two issues here. The first is that we, the police, are likely to be involved in on the street arbitrations over these detained people. It is almost like a custody officer on legs. At least in the comfort of a police station the custody officer can make a reasoned judgment about these issues without having a crowd of perhaps 15 or 20 people shouting "no, he didn't", "yes, he did", or whatever. The public will see them as part of the Police Service, so if we are not careful there will be a detraction from the image of the Police Service. I think there are lots of issues around the edges of this that are not as straight forward as the Bill appears to suggest.

  188. It is not simply the powers proposed to detain people, as you say, for half an hour until a police officer arrives, that is not the end of your criticism, is it?
  (Mr Elliott) No.

  189. Would I be right in saying that the Police Federation are not in favour of CSOs per se?
  (Mr Elliott) Absolutely not.

  190. It is not a question of simply the factors that you have outlined, which the Home Secretary will have to take on board, your views about the resentment of CSOs detaining people, but you do not like the whole idea?
  (Mr Elliott) That is right. It is okay having somebody walking the streets and having the ability to give fixed penalty tickets but one wonders how effective that will be. It may be that the schoolchild or my mother who drops a bus ticket in the street will be approached and give her name and address and that will not be a problem for the Community Support Officer but one wonders whether the people who are being targeted here, the anti-social individuals, will take any notice of the Community Support Officer. In fact, at the moment a well trained police officer has difficulty enough in handling people who are in drink or are generally anti-social. We can see that the actions of the Community Support Officer rather than saving police time will actually draw police to sort the problem out that has been created by their presence. Where I live, if you look at litter, for instance, it is mostly dropped by people coming home from the pub, most of whom have had a drink. It is not as simple as giving a drunk a fixed penalty ticket, I think you are just going to add to the litter problem because he is going to throw the damn thing away. It is not that simple. It is one of the most difficult areas of policing, front line street policing. It is one of the most difficult and challenging areas of policing. I think that is one of the fundamental problems with the proposal, it does not recognise the difficulty of uniformed street policing in a modern society, it does not recognise that at all.

  191. What would you say, however, to the view, put it this way, that street crime is substantially on the increase in London and the Home Secretary apparently has told the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police that unless some effective action is taken by his force the Home Secretary will send in his own squad—I understand from today's newspapers that is the position and we shall see if there is any confirmation of that—and therefore in view of what is happening at the moment in London, which has been well and rightly publicised, why not give the police the role that obviously they have of dealing with crime, serious crime, crime which affects law abiding people going about their business who are subject to mugging and all kinds of criminality, and sometimes as we know with much violence, and other matters, lesser matters, to be dealt with by the Community Support Officers? Do you see any merit in such an argument at all?
  (Mr Elliott) Not really, no. If there is money to be spent on Community Support Officers with limited powers I think we could certainly spend it better than spend it on Community Support Officers. If you want to talk about some wardens on estates doing what we might call super-caretaker roles which will improve the environment that people live in, that is an entirely different argument. What I think we have got here is a proposal for a second tier of policing which I think will draw the police into that tier to sort out the problems rather than the opposite. The difficulty with this is that street policing, particularly in a capital like London, is one of those areas that is a potential tinderbox for complaint. It is people who are stopped in the street by the police for a variety of reasons who raise complaints. It has got to be very, very delicately handled, very delicately handled. We have just enhanced the definition of a "stop" for stop and search purposes, for instance. This demands a high degree of practicality, training and sensitivity which I do not think that Community Support Officers will have. I think there is a real difficulty with these proposals. I do not see that they are alternative to policing, I think they are going to pull police officers away from the sorts of issues you are talking about. In other words, we will have police officers dealing with dog dirt as well as Community Support Officers and we still will not have the problem solved about street crime. Our answer is to put more uniformed police officers back on the street, which appears to work well in those areas where it has been in trial.

  192. Your alternative suggestion put forward in your paper is "to build up and professionalise the special constabulary into an effective auxiliary force" from about 12,700 to some 32,500. That is your suggestion as a Federation. Is that a realistic aim?
  (Mr Elliott) The Government in the last few years, various governments, has spent a lot of money on professionalising the special constabulary. Their training standards are higher now and I think that has improved the image of the special constabulary. The difficulty is I do not think people, particularly young people, can afford to volunteer like they did in the past. I am sure that lots of people would like to volunteer but they would probably need a little bit of money to make ends meet. Our proposal is we believe that there would be a larger number of people prepared to try the special constabulary if we were prepared to give them some reasonable recompense for their time. It would be a quid pro quo, it would be a payment for a minimum number of hours because what has happened in the past with specials is that there have been no minimum hours and there has been little control in that respect. We think we can work to a point where quite a number of people would do that for a small payment. I was at a party conference, it may have been when we saw the Countryside Alliance, and they were saying there are lots of people in the countryside who cannot make ends meet and we are short of police officers in the countryside and it seemed to me that was an area the service can work on where somebody would get a little bit of money for being a special and it would improve some of the rural crime problems.

  193. The meeting point to some extent between the Home Secretary and yourself is that there is a need, you will correct me obviously if I am wrong, for some support to the police and in the Home Secretary's view, apart from special constables, he is putting forward Community Support Officers but you are putting the emphasis on more special constables. There is a meeting point of a kind but obviously not getting quite to the same solution.
  (Mr Elliott) I would not quite put it that way, Sir. We have always argued for more police officers and the advantage of a special constable is that he or she has all the powers of a police officer, is under the control of the chief constable and is recognised by the public as exactly that. The warden problem is that not only are the proposals in the Bill for the Community Support Officers and wardens but we can see a plethora of different groups of people with different powers which must be confusing for the public. At least with a police officer or a special constable, the public know the extent of the powers. There is control from the chief officer. There is input from the local authority to the police authority and it is to us a far better solution and one that sits with British policing.

  194. No doubt you are hoping that if despite your objections Community Support Officers arrive on the scene they will turn out as popular as traffic wardens.
  (Mr Elliott) Traffic wardens are, I have no doubt, popular somewhere but I am not quite sure where.

Bob Russell

  195. Talking about traffic wardens, are they allowed to join the Police Federation?
  (Mr Elliott) No.

  196. Traffic wardens have existed for something like 40 years. Do you regard them as a second tier of policing?
  (Mr Elliott) No because they do not have the power which is proposed for the Community Support Officers which is detention of course.

  197. They operate out of police stations. They have police radios. They are part of the wider police family, are they not?
  (Mrs Berry) I think in some forces they still are but in an awful lot of forces—and I am not quite sure of the percentage—most forces have now taken traffic wardens away and they have gone under the auspices of the local authority. Therefore I think in that situation they have moved locations so they are not necessarily working out of police stations.

  198. Prior to that happening—and you are correct, they will be going from Essex in the next year or two—they were part of the police family for that time. I am trying to work out why it was possible to work with traffic wardens as part of the police family and not the Community Support Officers?
  (Mr Elliott) The difference is the extent of the powers that are being offered to Community Support Officers. That is the fundamental difference.

  199. You have told the Committee about some of the difficulty you envisage will happen if the street wardens come in under the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme. Surely that is exactly what happens in Holland? Certainly I have seen it operating and I got the impression the police enjoyed having this other level, if you like, these extra eyes and ears to support them not to undermine them but actually to support them.
  (Mrs Berry) The Police Service quite clearly cannot operate on its own, it has to work in partnership with other organisations within the community. There are a variety of local authority employees, there are neighbourhood warden schemes, there are traffic warden schemes, there are private security businesses with whom the police work in partnership. I think there is a vast difference between a co-operation in partnership and the extension of police powers to these bodies. My understanding of what is proposed in the Police Bill is that Community Support Officers would be employed by the police and as a result of being employed by the police then they would receive a certain level of power and that would be designed by the chief constable. Not every Community Support Officer would receive the same level of power, there would be different designations. Accredited security officers would be people who are not employed by the police, they might be local authority, they might be private security. They could be people who were working in clubs and pubs on the high streets. Again, they would need to have, I think, what has been classed as a double key accreditation where if their employer and the chief officer are convinced of the need for additional powers, additional powers could be given. I think our concern is on the extension of the powers, not that these different people might be doing a very good job in private security or in the super caretaker role but that they are actually then given police powers. We feel that would increase our workload on occasions because of the extension of powers rather than assist us.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 7 May 2002